Washingtonians Remember the Godfather of Go-Go Music

by: Shantella Y. Sherman Special to the AFRO ssherman@afro.com
/ (Photos of Panelists by Shantella Y. Sherman and Courtesy Photo) /
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The love and respect Washingtonians continue to have for legendary Go-Go artist and founder Chuck Brown shows most in the indelible footprint of his music and mentorship on both the music industry and the city.  In celebration of the 3rd Annual Chuck Brown Day, which is scheduled for Aug. 19, the D.C. Public Library hosted a series of workshops and screenings, including the panel discussion, “Go-Go, As D.C. History,” where lovers of his sound gathered to remember his artistry.

Legendary Go-Go artist and founder Chuck Brown. (Courtesy Photo)

Held Aug. 15 at the Woodridge Neighborhood Library in Northeast D.C., music journalist Marcus Dowling moderated the panel that explored five iconic Go-Go songs and the role Chuck Brown played in expanding the genre, connecting communities and inspiring new Go-Go artists.

In support of the D.C. Public Library’s mission to collect, preserve and provide access to materials that document the history and culture of the district, the Chuck Brown/Go-Go music archive was established in 2012. This archive aims to tell Brown’s story, the story of Go-Go and the impact both had on American music.

Panelists, (left to right) Jamal Gray, curator of Uptown Art House, Briana Younger, journalist and Geronimo Collins, host of “All the Fly Kids Podcast,” analyzed the works of Go-Go legend Chuck Brown during a panel called “Go-Go As D.C. History.” (Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman)

“We have to keep ‘true’ D.C. history — which is the people, the music, the stuff that is disappearing out of each neighborhood – alive.  And for many Black people, Chuck Brown was the ambassador of a good time,” Abraham Sully, one of the audience members told the AFRO.  “We were fighting for the respect of decent jobs, housing, voting rights, and schools, so when we laid claim to people, like Chuck Brown, we held on for dear life.”

Dowling said that by discussing Chuck Brown’s songs with those most influenced by them, it offered a larger examination of the city’s political, racial and cultural history.  With Brown sampling songs like Louis Jordan’s classic 1948 jazz / calypso song “Run Joe” to create his own Go-Go version in 1986, also introduced other genres into youth culture.

“Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers in the 1960s were really making a name for themselves, but when playing live music, musicians didn’t have a lot of breaks, so the music was non-stop and Brown learned to infuse music from other genres to extend the music as long as possible,” Dowling said.  “He could take various genres of music and blend them into a whole new sound.  That was his gift.”

Panelists, Geronimo Collins, host of “All the Fly Kids Podcast,” Briana Younger, a journalist and contributor to NPR, Jamal Gray curator of Uptown Art House, and performing artist Dior Ashley, each found Brown’s music to be the backdrop to the “wonder years” of young people growing up during the rise of Marion Barry, fights for home rule, and the war on drugs.

“Anyone who is able to create a genre is incredibly imp to music – to see it created in real time, but if you can imagine what people felt after hearing it for the first time,” Younger told a capacity crowd at the facility.  “Unfortunately, I don’t believe Chuck got his due for his accomplishments, especially when you consider that Go-Go really hasn’t become national.”

For additional information on the Chuck Brown Archives, visit dclibrary.org/chuckbrown.

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